For Jody and Bruce Hunke, and for some 90,000 other Husker fans, Sept. 4, 2010 was a pretty great day.
The temperature kissed 80 degrees as the football season got underway. Balloons flew as redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez ran for the first of three TDs in his oh-so promising Husker debut. The Cornhuskers thumped Western Kentucky 49-10, and it was time to celebrate.
Jody Hunke bookended the game, as so many do, with a little bit of tailgating action. She remembered being in a great mood as her husband drove them home, that is, until he turned the wrong direction on O Street.
It turned out this great day needed to be commemorated.
Tattoo artists in Nebraska are not allowed to work on people they suspect are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Hunke said she’d been drinking, and that the artist who inked her should have noticed. Nevertheless, she went under the needle, and came out with the familiar Nebraska “N,” complete with the “Cornhuskers” script across it, just below her left knee. Then her husband got a matching logo.
According to a 2012 Harris Interactive poll, one in every five Americans is tattooed. A vast majority of those with body art — 86 percent — said they had no regrets about getting inked.
Jody Hunke, 48, instantly joined the 14 percent club.
“I love the symbol, just not on my leg,” she said. “I remember waking up the next morning and getting in the shower and I was mad as a hornet.”
She remembered going out to the car after it was done, and calling a friend and asking what on earth she would do.
“I just lived with it,” she said.
Still, she looked into ways to get rid of it. Chemical peels and heavy makeup weren’t appealing, nor was a tattoo atop that tattoo.
And then she learned about a new option at Revitalift Aesthetic Center, a laser.
It was purchased in June, said co-owner Heather Swenson, and its predominant uses are laser hair removal and skin resurfacing. But when people began to hear that a laser tattoo removal device was available there, quite a few with tattoos they no longer wanted volunteered to be guinea pigs.
In the process, the staff at Revitalift have heard many a tattoo story.
As of December, 60 people had begun the process of laser tattoo removal. The gender split is about even, and the age range of their clients is vast, Henson said — from 19-year-olds to people in their 60s.
Kari Wolfe, a physician assistant who performs some of the laser removals, has begun the eradication process on three tattooed wedding rings. There have been exes’ names and reminders of wild Vegas weekends. There have been two Snoopys and one Mickey Mouse.
There have been intricate, professional designs and monochromatic scribbles that look like they were done in a basement during a house party. They have aimed the laser at arms and hands and legs and ankles and, yes, the lower back region, home of the “tramp stamp.”
There have been only genial conversations about the tattoo origins so far, Wolfe said. One woman who got matching ankle tattoos with her then-husband nearly 20 years ago said that while the ink remained, the meaning behind it did not.
Wolfe said the reasons they got tattoos in the first place tend to fall into one of three categories: They were young, inebriated or in love with someone. And now they aren’t.
Julie Nickel falls into the “young” category. About four years ago, when twirly mustaches were becoming a trendy thing, so too were tattoos of twirly mustaches on index fingers. Nickel, then 24 and living in Scottsdale, Ariz., impulsively wanted one, so she got it.
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It was fun for a little while. Friends and strangers alike implored her to place her finger above her upper lip and theirs. Then they kept asking, and kept asking.
"It's not funny to me anymore," she said.
Nearly every time she signs a credit card receipt, the cashier remarks on it.
“I plan on using cash until it’s gone,” she said.
Todd Reed, a Lincoln firefighter, has no such regrets of the tattoos on his upper arms. One signifies his service in the Army. The other is a tribute to firefighting and to his late grandfather, Bob Brown, who served on the Rapid City, S.D., Fire Department.
“That one just got a little bit longer than I thought,” Reed said.
He went in to get the singed ends of an American flag removed so his art doesn't creep out from under his shirt sleeve.
“The results that I’ve seen are phenomenal,” he said.
Jody Hunke was one of the first, and she said she’s pretty sure the physicians assistants working the laser have improved their technique with the glue gun-like device, because it hurts worse each time she goes in for treatment.
Getting a tattoo removed takes time, money and pain tolerance. Revitalift, 2801 Pine Lake Road, Suite L, has a Groupon going now, but three sessions to remove a small tattoo — 2 by 2 inches, tops — would typically cost $240.
The process has grown popular enough that researchers recently began to study its effectiveness. A 2012 Wall Street Journal article described a study published in an issue of the American Medical Association's Archives of Dermatology about laser removal. The study said the size and color of the tattoo impacts the laser’s effectiveness. So, too, does the person’s smoking history, according to the article.
Swenson said that most of the tattoo removal clients come in with a host of questions about the procedure, the amount of time it will take and the pain. She's in a unique position to advise them. Swenson was the first person to try the machine. She's in the process of removing a small flower tattoo — an 18th birthday gift to herself — on her ankle.
“My foot goes up on the table a lot.” Swenson said.
The treatments can be performed about once every six weeks, and larger and more colorful tattoos can take upwards of a year to remove. Each treatment lasts for two or so minutes and blasts away at the pigment particles beneath the epidermis. They have been described as getting a rubber band repeatedly snapped against the skin or bacon grease spattered upon it. They go through a lot of ice at Revitalift, Wolfe said.
“It literally feels like someone is welding on my finger," said Nickel, whose finger 'stache is beginning to look like a smudged Sharpie drawing.
Jody Hunke said it’s been worth it. There are parts of the "N" that are now more pink than red, and some of the pigment has vanished completely. The black outline of the “N” and the lettering of “Huskers” is fading even more. She said it looks more and more like a kid tried to color in the margins of the logo.
“It’s just gonna be a relief that I don’t have to see it there anymore, just the whole idea that it’s gone,” she said.
Her husband is keeping his "N," she said, and he has joked with her that he thought the logos would be a bond they'd share forever.
"I'll wear a wedding ring," was her response.